Thursday, October 25, 2012
Is There Really a Heaven?
Something touched a nerve about this subject because the forthcoming book on heaven is on the cover of Newsweek (Oct. 15, 2012), (Read the article here) and is a new book. It is written by a scientist, self proclaimed, because he is a neurosurgeon. Scientists and neurosurgeons are not necessarily equal. In the field of psychology he is far from a scientist. But let’s look at what he claims; but first in order to establish his bona fides, his disclaimer: he never believed in near-death experience. He was a “faithful Christian” but not a practicing one. I think he means he was a believer but not really a “true believer.”
He contracted meningitis, fell into a coma for a week, and a good part of this thinking/aware neo-cortex was shut off. “Then on the morning of the seventh day in the hospital, as my doctors weighed whether to discontinue treatment, my eyes popped open. While the neurons of my cortex were stunned to complete inactivity by the bacteria that had attacked them, my brain-free consciousness journeyed to another dimension of the universe.” He went to a place he never dreamed existed; sorry, I mean he went to a place that he dreamed existed. This placed him in a “new world.” And I am sure that world is new to him: but not to me. And not to me as a scientist who studies the deep unconscious. I will need to explain.
As soon as our doctor had his top level surgeon brain knocked out he was like all of the rest of us: non-scientific schlubs with no critical/judging cortex to help understand our experience. He was no longer scientist but someone who went through what our patients go through every day. The difference is that our patients are able to connect their experience to higher level processes, where the doctor could not because there were no higher levels operating at the time. I will have to explain better. Our therapy is based on the three levels of consciousness, not as a theoretical abstraction but as a scientific therapy that has been heavily researched. We take patients back to their childhood to relive and integrate childhood trauma, and even before to birth trauma and earlier events during womb-life, which is neurologically possible. These events operate on different levels of consciousness where the deepest level is processed in brain structures that lie on the bottom part the brain in the brainstem which handles our instincts, primitive experiences such as terror and fury, and imprints early events far below our ordinary levels of conscious/awareness. And that means far below the emotional experience of a surgeon whose whose life is focused on the here and now, not on his childhood and emotional trauma.
The top level cortex is the thinking, comprehending analytic brain that understands experience, but we have experience without all that. Look at the Alzheimer patient who has a pretty full life, albeit unconscious or unaware, who operates on below conscious/aware levels. She can fall in love, care for animals, take walks with someone she cares about and carry on minimal conversations, bereft of fancy abstractions. She can have a life. Well that is what all of us have but beyond that we have a deeper, brainstem life with a little bit of an emotional/limbic system component that signifies a life before words and even before the full development of our emotions. I reiterate, those brain levels exist in all of us and have their own operating system that dictates how we respond. Unfortunately, few of us ever have a chance to go back to visit and relive those experiences, except for our patients. And what happens when they do? The imprinted experience on the brainstem sends its nerve shoots (brain pathways) to higher levels that in turn respond in their own way. The limbic area offers emotions to the mix, and then at long last the cortex enters the fray and adds is ideas and fantasies. The final step in our work is arriving at conscious/awareness; lower levels rising and gathering up parts of each higher level, finally recruiting the neo-cortex to make sense of it all. It unifies the entire experience into a specific meaning… “They didn’t love me.”
How do we know? Well we have years of research behind us, discussed in peer reviewed journals, but also in our therapy when patients descend to deeper levels they not only begin to feel deep sadness or pure terror but as the feelings expands the brainwaves also mount, as does the blood pressure and body temperature. More important, when the feeling is unified there is a descent of key vital signs below starting baseline. That signifies the beginning of integration; and over months those vital signs remain changed as the body changes. We change all levels of consciousness not just the top level neo-cortex, as happens in cognitive therapy.
We have seen patients approach these deep levels, after months of therapy, never right away, and begin their strange ideas……”I am in a washing machine that won’t stop and I don’t know how to stop it.” Or, “I am suffocating in a cave. There is no air and I cannot get out.” These, in my experience, are derivatives of the birth experience (foreshortened here), that first send up vague but related ideas, the forerunner of the reliving experience. It is very possible in those who approach these experiences too soon or who have take drugs to get there, that they will get stuck in the fantasy, the dream sequence, and never arrive at a connection. Here is where our surgeon enters. Surgeons, and we have treated them, are notorious unfeeling souls who left their emotions far behind to be able to cut into our brains. We get them in therapy after a stroke or from some exotic disease. We get them when they have no other option. They are the last to believe in feelings and the emotional level. I am not sure that if we are fully feeling we could take a knife and cut into someone’s brain. But you know what they say, “a shrink is a doctor who cannot stand the sight of blood.”
So what happens? Experience on deep brain levels are like the spokes of a wheel that radiate upwards and forwards to inform high levels of it all but without words or verbal information. We later put words and fantasy images thanks to our emotional levels and then we believe what we have “experienced.” This only means that the person has stopped short of connection and has conflated or grown into a “cosmic consciousness” thanks to LSD, rebirthing and other nonsense. He gets blocked on the emotional level, in this case, because the meningitis brain is not doing so well and cannot help out much. And so later he really believes he has “been to heaven,” which our previous LSDers believe after an acid trip. We know from research that the acid takers are flooded with pain as the control mechanisms in the brain shut down with the drug. Their pain of a lifetime surges forward into the top level. Their only recourse is to manufacture another planet with the little cortex they have left. And they can construct someplace else where all is wonderful…..pink clouds and softness, and especially, where death is not only not so bad but a nice place to be—everyone’s dream of heaven. If our doctor had written that it was a horrible experience it would never be on the front page of Newsweek. It doesn’t help that he is a scientist; in fact it hurts, because he has less expertise on feelings than most of us have. He is on another planet; that of surgeons. He states that although his top level was out of commission his lower brain levels were alive and well. And they are but he never knew what lies on those levels. It took us forty years to get down to those levels safely and finally to understand the brain well enough to know about those three levels and how they make out our conscious/awareness. We have been there and have taken careful notes on our patients” experiences. They go through pretty much the same thing; first emotional/dreamlike fantasies, (as the limbic system contributes) and later the concoction of elaborate notions of heaven and new planets of existence thanks to the neo-cortex. If you want to call that heaven that is fine but don’t give it the imprimature of science. It is fantasy pure and simple, even when offered by a “scientist.” I have found that the minute a scientist gets slightly out of his specialty he tends to talk nonsense. And he stops being a specialist. He leaves off where we begin. We don’t dissect the brain but we dissect what the brain does with feelings.
Our doctor could not do that so he hears beautiful chants and songs of angels; by the way, if the top level was completely shut down where did he get the idea of angels? He now sees that we are one, unified beings, part of all the world. And then he says it gets worse: he has a companion through it all, someone young and beautiful, riding along on the wings of a butterfly. You need a limbic system to have even an imagined companion, so clearly, higher brain levels were at work. And then without any words a wind thrusts through him and he heard, “You are loved. Cherished. You have nothing to fear. There is nothing you can do wrong.” All three basic primal feelings that one gets to in our therapy over time. But it is not an idea; it is a feeling where patients beg, “Love me just a little. Say I am good and not wrong,” etc. Basic needs that we all have and need to experience. It needs connection which is liberating, something our doctor never had; and needs for a real experience. Doctor, it is not the wind speaking; it is your father.
Years ago there was a similar book, also a best seller, who had little men who looked like ET who bundled off the author to a waiting starship where they performed all kinds of booga booga on him. It sounds crazy but no more crazy than riding on pink clouds with a beautiful “princess.” It is all fantasy and does not make heaven any more real except for the true believers. It is all in the mind. The doctor believes, “It as if I were being born into a larger world, and the universe was like a giant cosmic womb.” Exactly. A symbolic birth primal. We have patients who have been on drugs or who are very disturbed who have those feelings; once they connect, it all disappears. But imagine me explain to the doctor that birth imprints stay in the brain and direct part of our lives. And then tell him that we can relive it all. He will surely think I am the crazy one. He says that what he went through demands explanation. Here I am.
One part of the explanation is that as death nears the whole system goes into alarm state. There is secretion of endorphins and serotonin as the system fights the danger, and then it is over; or not. If it is not over, the person may have felt the near-death syndrome but he never went to heaven. He touched on hell and that drove his brain to fabulate heaven. There have many studies on near death. Usually it is when someone has fallen into a coma, comes out and imagines she died. She didn’t. But that doesn’t stop the notion that “I left my body and traveled to another planet.” Let us not forget that Wilder Penfield in Canada, decades ago put an electric probe on areas of the temporal lobe (of those undergoing surgery for epilepsy) and got delusions and hallucinations. It so happened that the closer he got to the actual memory site the more real the memory became. All this means that we can get all of these fantasies in a surgical setting in those not near death. The minute that we interfere with neurotransmitters we can get this effect, as well. LSD affects serotonin turnover. And this can result in disinhibition which then results in delusions as repression and inhibition falters. In short, we cannot believe what the cortex tells us when lower brain levels is telling us something else. But when the cortex offers goodies such as gorgeous girls and heaven instead of death it can’t be beat.
If I were to take this doctor into therapy we would get to the real feelings eventually but then he couldn’t sell a million books.
Review of "Beyond Belief"
This thought-provoking and important book shows how people are drawn toward dangerous beliefs.
“Belief can manifest itself in world-changing ways—and did, in some of history’s ugliest moments, from the rise of Adolf Hitler to the Jonestown mass suicide in 1979. Arthur Janov, a renowned psychologist who penned The Primal Scream, fearlessly tackles the subject of why and how strong believers willingly embrace even the most deranged leaders.
Beyond Belief begins with a lucid explanation of belief systems that, writes Janov, “are maps, something to help us navigate through life more effectively.” While belief systems are not presented as inherently bad, the author concentrates not just on why people adopt belief systems, but why “alienated individuals” in particular seek out “belief systems on the fringes.” The result is a book that is both illuminating and sobering. It explores, for example, how a strongly-held belief can lead radical Islamist jihadists to murder others in suicide acts. Janov writes, “I believe if people had more love in this life, they would not be so anxious to end it in favor of some imaginary existence.”
One of the most compelling aspects of Beyond Belief is the author’s liberal use of case studies, most of which are related in the first person by individuals whose lives were dramatically affected by their involvement in cults. These stories offer an exceptional perspective on the manner in which belief systems can take hold and shape one’s experiences. Joan’s tale, for instance, both engaging and disturbing, describes what it was like to join the Hare Krishnas. Even though she left the sect, observing that participants “are stunted in spiritual awareness,” Joan considers returning someday because “there’s a certain protection there.”
Janov’s great insight into cultish leaders is particularly interesting; he believes such people have had childhoods in which they were “rejected and unloved,” because “only unloved people want to become the wise man or woman (although it is usually male) imparting words of wisdom to others.” This is just one reason why Beyond Belief is such a thought-provoking, important book.”
Barry Silverstein, Freelance Writer
Quotes for "Life Before Birth"
“Life Before Birth is a thrilling journey of discovery, a real joy to read. Janov writes like no one else on the human mind—engaging, brilliant, passionate, and honest.
He is the best writer today on what makes us human—he shows us how the mind works, how it goes wrong, and how to put it right . . . He presents a brand-new approach to dealing with depression, emotional pain, anxiety, and addiction.”
Paul Thompson, PhD, Professor of Neurology, UCLA School of Medicine
Art Janov, one of the pioneers of fetal and early infant experiences and future mental health issues, offers a robust vision of how the earliest traumas of life can percolate through the brains, minds and lives of individuals. He focuses on both the shifting tides of brain emotional systems and the life-long consequences that can result, as well as the novel interventions, and clinical understanding, that need to be implemented in order to bring about the brain-mind changes that can restore affective equanimity. The transitions from feelings of persistent affective turmoil to psychological wholeness, requires both an understanding of the brain changes and a therapist that can work with the affective mind at primary-process levels. Life Before Birth, is a manifesto that provides a robust argument for increasing attention to the neuro-mental lives of fetuses and infants, and the widespread ramifications on mental health if we do not. Without an accurate developmental history of troubled minds, coordinated with a recognition of the primal emotional powers of the lowest ancestral regions of the human brain, therapists will be lost in their attempt to restore psychological balance.
Jaak Panksepp, Ph.D.
Bailey Endowed Chair of Animal Well Being Science
Washington State University
Dr. Janov’s essential insight—that our earliest experiences strongly influence later well being—is no longer in doubt. Thanks to advances in neuroscience, immunology, and epigenetics, we can now see some of the mechanisms of action at the heart of these developmental processes. His long-held belief that the brain, human development, and psychological well being need to studied in the context of evolution—from the brainstem up—now lies at the heart of the integration of neuroscience and psychotherapy.
Grounded in these two principles, Dr. Janov continues to explore the lifelong impact of prenatal, birth, and early experiences on our brains and minds. Simultaneously “old school” and revolutionary, he synthesizes traditional psychodynamic theories with cutting-edge science while consistently highlighting the limitations of a strict, “top-down” talking cure. Whether or not you agree with his philosophical assumptions, therapeutic practices, or theoretical conclusions, I promise you an interesting and thought-provoking journey.
Lou Cozolino, PsyD, Professor of Psychology, Pepperdine University
In Life Before Birth Dr. Arthur Janov illuminates the sources of much that happens during life after birth. Lucidly, the pioneer of primal therapy provides the scientific rationale for treatments that take us through our original, non-verbal memories—to essential depths of experience that the superficial cognitive-behavioral modalities currently in fashion cannot possibly touch, let alone transform.
Gabor Maté MD, author of In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters With Addiction
An expansive analysis! This book attempts to explain the impact of critical developmental windows in the past, implores us to improve the lives of pregnant women in the present, and has implications for understanding our children, ourselves, and our collective future. I’m not sure whether primal therapy works or not, but it certainly deserves systematic testing in well-designed, assessor-blinded, randomized controlled clinical trials.
K.J.S. Anand, MBBS, D. Phil, FAACP, FCCM, FRCPCH, Professor of Pediatrics, Anesthesiology, Anatomy & Neurobiology, Senior Scholar, Center for Excellence in Faith and Health, Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare System
A baby's brain grows more while in the womb than at any time in a child's life. Life Before Birth: The Hidden Script That Rules Our Lives is a valuable guide to creating healthier babies and offers insight into healing our early primal wounds. Dr. Janov integrates the most recent scientific research about prenatal development with the psychobiological reality that these early experiences do cast a long shadow over our entire lifespan. With a wealth of experience and a history of successful psychotherapeutic treatment, Dr. Janov is well positioned to speak with clarity and precision on a topic that remains critically important.
Paula Thomson, PsyD, Associate Professor, California State University, Northridge & Professor Emeritus, York University
"I am enthralled.
Dr. Janov has crafted a compelling and prophetic opus that could rightly dictate
PhD thesis topics for decades to come. Devoid of any "New Age" pseudoscience,
this work never strays from scientific orthodoxy and yet is perfectly accessible and
downright fascinating to any lay person interested in the mysteries of the human psyche."
Dr. Bernard Park, MD, MPH
His new book “Life Before Birth: The Hidden Script that Rules Our Lives” shows that primal therapy, the lower-brain therapeutic method popularized in the 1970’s international bestseller “Primal Scream” and his early work with John Lennon, may help alleviate depression and anxiety disorders, normalize blood pressure and serotonin levels, and improve the functioning of the immune system.
One of the book’s most intriguing theories is that fetal imprinting, an evolutionary strategy to prepare children to cope with life, establishes a permanent set-point in a child's physiology. Baby's born to mothers highly anxious during pregnancy, whether from war, natural disasters, failed marriages, or other stressful life conditions, may thus be prone to mental illness and brain dysfunction later in life. Early traumatic events such as low oxygen at birth, painkillers and antidepressants administered to the mother during pregnancy, poor maternal nutrition, and a lack of parental affection in the first years of life may compound the effect.
In making the case for a brand-new, unified field theory of psychotherapy, Dr. Janov weaves together the evolutionary theories of Jean Baptiste Larmarck, the fetal development studies of Vivette Glover and K.J.S. Anand, and fascinating new research by the psychiatrist Elissa Epel suggesting that telomeres—a region of repetitive DNA critical in predicting life expectancy—may be significantly altered during pregnancy.
After explaining how hormonal and neurologic processes in the womb provide a blueprint for later mental illness and disease, Dr. Janov charts a revolutionary new course for psychotherapy. He provides a sharp critique of cognitive behavioral therapy, psychoanalysis, and other popular “talk therapy” models for treating addiction and mental illness, which he argues do not reach the limbic system and brainstem, where the effects of early trauma are registered in the nervous system.
“Life Before Birth: The Hidden Script that Rules Our Lives” is scheduled to be published by NTI Upstream in October 2011, and has tremendous implications for the future of modern psychology, pediatrics, pregnancy, and women’s health.